Psalm 80: The Bread of Tears

Our psalm from last week of bargaining with God, gives way to depression, stage four of Kubler-Ross’s stages of dying, as the Israelites are so sad that their daily bread is made up of tears, as well as their drinking water. “You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.” (5) I love this image. While there are references to tears elsewhere in the Old Testament, this image is unique to Psalm 80. Another lament, in Psalm 80 all the Israelites can do is cry all day long over the destruction of Jerusalem.

The poet goes on with the story of a vine that was taken from Egypt, transplanted and flourished only to be destroyed. “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and tilled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River. Why then did you break down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the filed feed on it.” (8-13)

This is a fitting psalm to reflect on as we move through Holy Week and remember the last days of Jesus’ life. There are many reasons to feast on tears as we remember the fickleness of the crowd, Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, and Jesus’ abandonment by all of his followers except for John and a handful of women.

We know the end of the story, that Jesus’ death was the door to a new beginning—his resurrection, but his followers didn’t. The Israelites had no idea what was in the store for them any more than Jesus’ followers, any more than any of us know beyond our own limited space and time.

We may trust and believe that days of sorrow will draw to an end, just as the Israelites continued to trust and believe that their God would save them. This may be small help when in the depths of despair and yet we cling to this hope. Throughout the psalm is the refrain, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine that we may be saved!” (3, 7, 19) Words of belief that God can save them.

When we lose a loved one, it can feel like we are eating the bread of tears. Our life is changed by the loss. We go through our grief to find a new normal, a life without the physical presence of our loved one, yet filled with memories. We remember grandma when we make her sugar cookies or sweet potato pie. We remember children that have died when we plant a tree in their memory that other children climb. We remember a beloved spouse when we support a cause they believed in. These are all ways to maintain a relationship with a loved one who has died while also moving on with our life.

The lives of the Israelites were changed dramatically by the destruction of Jerusalem. Through being exiled in Babylon, they spread beyond their Palestine roots, planting seeds for growth that helped spread Christianity to the world.

Without the cross there would be no resurrection, and no Christianity. God can bring new life out of death. Whatever your loss, God can bring new life if we are open to it. But first we consume the bread of tears. We go through the cross to resurrection!

As you remember losses in your life, are there any that have not been fully grieved? How has the loss opened you up to new life? Let me know, I love hearing from you!

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